Discussions are underway over how to achieve the goals and benchmarks Energy Under Secretary Johnson explained, such as clean energy attaining a certain percentage of energy usage by a certain date, Dr. Newmark said. “The national priorities drive investment that span all the way from basic to applied research to commercial scale deployment,” she said. “That said, the innovations depend on venture capital to get to commercial implementation.” The U.S. government focuses on everything from very basic research in materials and separation science to very large-scale, public-private investments for deployment of some of these novel technologies.”
Of course, the market ultimately will determine which energy technologies succeed, Dr. Newark noted. “In the energy sector, innovation requires that market finance and risk be addressed.” But public financial support is required because new energy technologies require large-scale deployment to study and certify their performance, she said.
Mr. Bonvillian noted that the energy sector represents a different model of government involvement, one that mixes public and private roles “and is more bottom-up rather than top-down. And it is driven by a societal mission.”
Cathy Swain, assistant vice-chancellor for commercial development at the University of Texas System, commented that there are a range of public investment activities in Texas. She noted that the state legislature set up a Cancer Prevention Research Fund several years ago. The $3 billion fund invests $300 million in cancer research each year. Texas also has the Emerging Technology Fund, which does not distinguish among industrial clusters, Ms. Swain explained. It focuses on early-stage investment for commercialization opportunities, before companies seek venture capital. The Fund also takes equity in start-ups.
Two other programs are part of the Emerging Technology Fund, Ms. Swain added. One is the Research Superiority Fund, which establishes centers of excellence at universities. The other is the Research Matching Fund. The state is looking to turn that fund into a source of micro-lending to support development of proofs of concept.
Texas’ activities highlight another feature of the U.S. public funding model, Mr. Bonvillian noted. “There is a growing role by our states in sponsoring innovation,” he said. “That has been nascent for a long time but is starting to grow.”
He asked how Chinese institutions make decisions on what to fund.
The United States and China share many similarities, Mr. Yang said. “We also have a competitive method,” he said. Recipients of funding go